- Editorial Comment
One of the pleasures of editing is learning new things. This general issue is replete with good essays on subjects about which six months ago I knew virtually nothing. Most readers of Theatre Journal know something about Meierkhold, of course, but not about the evolving principles and practices of constructivist theatrical design in which the theatrical production itself is understood as constructivist object. Some of us know a little about censorship in the former Eastern bloc, but not about the intriguing specificities of how it played out in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) through the role and manipulation of actual audiences. Few of us know much about the exchange of popular musical theatre between London and Berlin during the long turn of the twentieth century. And I, for one, knew nothing at all about the extraordinary impresario Lars Schmidt or his role in the introduction of American theatre and systems of theatrical production in postwar Europe, or about Troika Ranch’s extraordinary contemporary representation and reproduction of trauma, loopdiver.
The issue opens with Len Platt and Tobias Becker’s “Popular Musical Theatre, Cultural Transfer, Modernities—London/Berlin, 1890–1930,” a careful tracing of hitherto largely neglected theatrical traffic between London and Berlin by way of operettas, musical comedies, and revues. Productively treating the popular musical theatre genre as a one that formalized “the limits of the acceptable,” the authors combine the close analysis of representative adaptations and translations with a longer, diachronic view of fifty years of shifting, often antagonistic Anglo-German relations. They begin with the generally upbeat and accommodating vision of the modernity (and technology and consumerism) that dominated the popular stage in both London and Berlin prior to World War I, as represented by the transposition of the West End hit The Arcadians (1909) to its localizing Berlin “translation,” Schwindelmeier & Co., as the two cities laid claim to preeminence as modern cosmopolitan metropolises. They end with a survey of the largely unexplored period of retreat from the modern (1914–30), during which time on London stages Austria frequently stood in for Germany, Vienna for Berlin, and romantic escapism required a mythic and less threatening version of England’s wartime enemy. Nevertheless, a now one-way traffic of conservative operettas resumed in the 1920s, but one with a much more ambivalent relationship to modernity in which “faithfulness” to a romantic, aristocratic, or “historical” continental original trumped adaptation to local or immediate social conditions. Platt and Becker suggest, indeed, that the stable touring packages of the period anticipate the reproducible stagings of the contemporary globalized mega-musical. “There is a strong sense here,” they conclude, “of an asserting, advancing, and genuinely cosmopolitan popular culture being transformed by global war, economic upheavals, and new levels of social and political bifurcation into something more retrospective and retreatist.”
Dirk Gindt, in his “Transatlantic Translations and Transactions: Lars Schmidt and the Implementation of Postwar American Theatre in Europe,” is equally concerned with cultural transfer—this time decidedly one-way—between the United States and a broader Europe (most notably including Scandinavia and Paris) during the period following World War II. Like Platt and Becker, Gindt combines close readings of specific productions, in this case European premieres of The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and My Fair Lady, with a longer view that follows the career of theatrical impresario Lars Schmidt from Sweden in the early 1940s, through his controversial successes in Paris in the 1950s, to his unchallenged position as the “European theatre king” in the 1960s, and finally to his gaining widespread recognition through prestigious awards in the 1980s and ’90s, prior to his death in 2009. Gindt maps Schmidt’s success as being based on a combination of artistic ambition, pragmatism, networking, and significant producing skills: assembling the right creative team (including the right linguistic and cultural translator), impeccable commercial instinct (otherwise “blatant commercialism”), and “smooth business practices” (including clever investments and innovative marketing politics). The essay portrays Schmidt as an agent, as both cultural ambassador and gatekeeper, of the spread of postwar American (theatre) culture in Europe, for better or worse introducing American production principles and “aggressively American” marketing. In the case of...